Forever Family: holding space

Some of the moments inside this house…oh lawd, there simply are no words.

No. Words.

We’ve had moments of sound and fury that could rival any hurricane.  Times filled with such complete and utter breakdown, all I can do is blink in stunned surprise.  Moments of colossal disintegration that make me certain a child’s head is about to spin full around while vomiting pea soup.

We can bring the crazy up in here.

You know that moment, right?  The one where the world is ending and the kid is freaking and you just need it all to stop right that very minute but there’s not a thing you can do.  Not in that moment.

Because in that particular instant all reason and logic has left the building, leaving you to deal with one enormous bundle of live wires.

I look back and can’t help but shake my head at how I’ve handled these meltdowns over the years.  I mean, there have been times I’ve actually tried to talk my kid down off the ledge.  While they were standing there screaming.  Sheesh.

If I were in the midst of a full blown disaster, feeling like my world was crumbling around me, I’m sure what I’d want to hear is “well now, honey, let’s look at what’s true about this.”

[snort]

Handling a crisis moment was one of many things discussed in the “Life Is Therapy” workshop* we attended.  Most notably, that before and after the Moment is when a child’s brain is logical, calm, and regulated.  When they are In the Moment they simply cannot reason or make connections.  They’re too busy exploding or shutting down.

The teachable space comes afterward.

So why is this in a Forever Family post?  Behavior management is a parenting issue, true…but foster and adopted children often process trauma from a different space, making both the timing and type of interventions especially important. 

So what do you do when your kid is standing there, screaming her head off?

This is where the More comes in.  I’ve had to fight off every Type A, top down, authoritarian approach I learned from my own childhood to shift my parenting.  Not to say I’m always successful, but I try.  I’ve had to search for More.

More acceptance of outbursts when it helps to release their pain and suffering.  More understanding that their language might not always be appropriate and their timing is rarely convenient.  More grace in realizing these kids have everyday problems, but underlying that they’re also processing loss and abandonment the likes of which I haven’t known.

Just more.

I have to allow them room to release what Ms. Forbes calls “trauma energy.”  This requires a massive stretch for me in parenting – to allow their behavior in the moment, even to encourage it and ask for more.  Teaching the lesson has to come later.

So what do you do?  Stop trying to convince them to come into our reality and meet them where they are.  Go into theirs, accepting their pain or fury or frustration or stress.  Then exercise empathy.

Stop believing you can fix it.  You can’t fix it.  Just connect with your child, listen to them in their reality, and hold the space while they work through their pain.

Easy?  No.  But very, very necessary.


Forbes, Heather T. (2016).  “Life is Therapy: Embracing Negative Moments as Healing Moments.” Session presented at the 4th Annual Adoption Conference, Charlotte, NC.

6 thoughts on “Forever Family: holding space

  1. Children who have been through foster care and adoption, especially older children (preschool and up), have experienced so much loss. They’ve also most likely experience great deals of neglect or some form of abuse. It’s amazing how many big issues their little hearts and minds have to process and deal with. There are days I want to have a hissy fit too. I don’t blame them for wanting to vent their frustrations at the world. It’s so sad. But yes, it can be extremely challenging as a parent, to remain calm and focused on helping the child through these feelings in a moment when you just want the screaming and craziness to stop. It sounds like you’re doing a great job so far. As long as you do it right more often than you do it wrong, you’re on the right track!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Forever Family: holding space, part 2 | Riddle from the Middle

  3. Pingback: Forever Family: handle with care | Riddle from the Middle

  4. Pingback: Forever Family: safe havens | Riddle from the Middle

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